Child support guidelines specify the amount of child support to be paid to the custodial parent by the non-custodial parent. However, the amount of child support paid can vary depending on the amount of time you have your children.

By Diana Shepherd, CDFA

The Child Support Guideline amounts are intended for children who reside primarily with one parent. However, the amount of time the children reside with each parent could affect the amount of child support payable. In many jurisdictions, if one parent has the children less than 40% of the time (and the other more than 60% of the time), the full guideline amount of child support is payable. However, if one parent has the children 40% or more of the time (and the other 60% or less of the time), then the payor would have a “set off” amount. To find this amount, you take the guideline amount of the parent earning the least money and subtract it from the one earning the most money; the person with the higher amount pays the difference to the one with the lower.

Let’s look at an example of how custody arrangements for the children could affect child support. Paul and Brenda have three minor children, all of whom are going to live with Brenda post-divorce (“sole physical custody”). In this case, Paul would probably end up paying the guideline amount for three children in his state/province – plus a portion of any special expenses that both parents agree are reasonable and necessary.

What if two children are going to live with Brenda and one is going to live with Paul post-divorce (“split physical custody”)? Brenda would pay support for the child who is in Paul’s care, and Paul would pay support for the two children in Brenda’s care. After they figure out what Paul owes Brenda and what Brenda owes Paul, they could subtract the lesser amount from the greater amount to find the net amount payable. Again, they would both need to agree on how to pay for each child’s special expenses.

Finally, let’s look at what could happen if the three children are going to live with Brenda 55% of the time and Paul 45% percent of the time (“shared physical custody”). They could use a set-off amount: subtract Brenda’s guideline amount from Paul’s amount, and Paul pays the difference to Brenda. Again, they need to come to an agreement about handling the children’s special expenses.

These examples show ways of taking the guideline amounts into account when figuring out child support under different custody arrangements. You could also use any other method you and your co-parent agree on to figure out the child support amount (as long as it is not less than would be paid using your state or province’s guideline amounts). Before deciding on an amount, you should learn how much support a judge would likely order to be paid in your situation.

Before finalizing an agreement, you should talk to a lawyer, who can help you understand your legal rights and obligations, which guidelines apply to you, how to use those guidelines to calculate a child support amount, and provide the right documents if you go to court. You should also obtain advice from a financial professional – particularly about your ability to pay for special expenses for your children.

Diana Shepherd, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® and Editorial Director of Divorce Magazine, has been writing about divorce-related issues since 1995.